Walsh’s Wonderings — Cell phone etiquette

Apple released its newest iPhone a few weeks ago. The new one has extended battery life, a better camera, and a retractable arm that will drive your car while you sleep. (Full disclosure: I didn’t have time to read up on all the news specs, so I’m just making assumptions.)

I’ve been trying to get my mom to upgrade her phone for years now because I’m pretty sure her cell service provider is Western Union. She’s finally come to a reluctant acceptance that cell phones are a necessary component of participating in 21st-century society. Unfortunately, she chooses to do so with a 20th-century cell phone. Her flip phone comes complete with those two unmarked buttons on top of the number pad that seem to perform all the functions without regard to ease of use. I’d forgotten how hard it was to text on those phones; each message required we press “7” four times just to get to the letter “S.” Small wonder it took longer to text a message than to hop on a train and scream it through someone’s window.

Needless to say, I planned to take advantage of a cell carrier’s latest promotion when I took a quick visit to my mom. I wrote out a list of pros and cons and was convinced a new phone was the right decision for her … until I arrived at her house in Florida and saw how her septuagenarian friends used their phones.

Younger generations get a bad rap about being overly attached to their cell phones, and even I have to admit I’m thoroughly addicted to my mobile screens. However, younger generations have grown up with this technology and therefore have some sense of boundaries. What I quickly discovered about the “Greatest Generation” was ear-opening.

Trapped behind the lines at doctor’s offices and blue plate specials, I suddenly noticed how people born before the ’50s seem to ignore cell phone etiquette completely. Waiting for my mom’s eye examination, I realized everyone’s ringer was on. There was no hesitation as these elderly folk accepted incoming calls without even looking at the number, talking at a volume that showed no regard for the people around them (who, it seemed, had no problem with this at all). They unabashedly watched their viral videos with the sound on, which they strained to hear as notification beeps were going off all over the room.

I snuck off to speak to the receptionist, who confirmed how bad things had gotten with the older folk in the past few years. “Half of them can’t hear well, so the volume is all the way up. Most of the others can’t hear well enough to complain.”

It was with great trepidation that I finally agreed to push my mom toward a new phone anyway. While she doesn’t need three different camera lenses (who does, really?) or extended battery life (she uses it maybe once per Supermoon), there are too many basic safety features baked in to today’s phones that make her children feel more secure. If we’re going to keep her tethered to the 21st century, better to do it with a chain link than an old shoelace.

Besides, the rattling of that chain would make less noise than those endless notification beeps.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.